IF YOU suffer from anxiety, taking to the stage to perform stand-up comedy might sound like a living nightmare. Not so for Alison Spittle, hailed as one of Irish comedy’s fastest rising stars. Although she’s making waves as a broadcaster, with her own six-part sitcom due out on RTÉ2 in the autumn, her podcast, The Alison Spittle Show, and past contributions to Republic of Telly and The Right Hook, live is where it’s at, she says: “When I did my first gig, it just clicked; it was like falling in love, very hard.
“I know it’s ridiculous, but I just feel safe doing stand-up. I think it’s because no one else is in control. I don’t feel in control of a lot of things, but with stand-up I don’t have to answer to anybody except the audience and if things are going badly, it’s my responsibility to change it.”
Spittle’s new show, Worrier Princess, is a sequel to her 2015 one-woman show, Alison Spittle Discovers Hawaii, which was lauded for raising awareness of mental health issues. Hawaii was her “happy place”, and the show centred around her attempts to get to grips with anxiety.
Spittle endured two armed break-ins at her Dublin home in the space of a month, first by a man with a knife and then by two men wielding crowbars. Following her ordeal, Spittle suffered from anxiety, at times so crippling that she found it difficult to leave her home; she was diagnosed with a stress-related disorder and tried medication for a time, although now she opts for counselling.
Even as the burglaries were under way, Spittle was thinking about their comedic potential. “The only way I had to process it was to remember the funny things about it,” recalls Spittle. “I was just telling myself that if I did a show about, it wouldn’t be a wasted experience.
“When the first lad robbed me, he was shouting at me for car keys, so I just started telling him about all the times I tried to learn to drive and couldn’t. It was a ridiculous way to try to be normal in an abnormal situation.”
Spittle says she may have over-estimated the therapeutic effects of stand-up; Worrier Princess is every bit as personal, and faces up to the fact that for her, maybe talking about it didn’t really help so much. “I thought that being honest about being afraid all the time would make it better, but it didn’t,” she says. “So this show is about what happens after you feel you’re better, and then you realise you’re not.”
She’s opting for a more polished style for Worrier Princess than in earlier offerings, which often had a raw, DIY feel. “I’m scared of failing and I protect myself,” she says.
“If the thing doesn’t work out I can go, ‘Well, I know why it didn’t work out: it’s because I didn’t try hard enough, it’s not polished enough.’ So I’m working hard on all aspects of the show. I’m going to try it, because I’m scared.”
Spittle’s confessional brand of comedy is self-deprecating and at times painfully honest. Her column for online magazine Headstuff, ‘Why Can’t All Lads Be Sound Like Hozier?’ was widely shared on social media for her description of regular street harassment at the hands of men and boys who mock her weight and eccentric fashion choices.
It’s an uncomfortable read. “They slag me off and walk on and go about their day,” she wrote. “I can’t go to the gardaí and say ‘Excuse me officer, but this young boy has called me Big Momma’s House, I demand reprisals,’ I think about what I can do to prevent it… Don’t be so short, don’t be so fat, don’t wear bright clothes, don’t be on your own, try not to look so happy.”
Born in London, Spittle moved to Westmeath with her family when she was seven. By secondary school, she says, she had a reputation for being “a bit mental”.
Her upcoming RTÉ2 sitcom, Nowhere Fast, centres around life in the Midlands for a generation of 20-somethings.
Spittle went to college in Dublin, but moved home to her mother while working in radio in Athlone following graduation. “I suppose the sitcom comes out of that kind of fear I had in my early 20s,” she says. “I was very isolated. What was I going to do with the rest of my life, and would I be living in Westmeath?”
“I’ve always felt the Midlands gets short-changed in the media, because I think there’s more of a strong identity in Cork, Galway, or Donegal. We don’t have a strong hurling team or anything like that: The only things we have are Joe Dolan and Niall Horgan and Bressie.”
Now based in Dublin, Spittle has plenty on the horizon, with appearances at Dublin Fringe Festival and Cork Comedy Festival this month, a mini-tour booked for October and, of course, audience reactions to her first sitcom to anticipate.
“I’m very lucky,” she says. “Being around comedy and making stuff, I feel like I’ve made myself a nice home, and a nice community around me. I’m really happy at the moment.”
- ‘Alison Spittle, Worrier Princess’ is at the Bello Bar as part of Dublin Fringe Festival, from September 11-14 and 15-16. For more, see: fringefest.com
Cork has a cut off Dublin Fringe
Shows produced by Cork people take up a hefty proportion of what’s on offer at the Dublin event:
Youghal’s former European champion kickboxer turned actor, Liz Fitzgibbon, pictured, brings her one-woman show and pugilistic skills to the stage.
Choreographer Luke Murphy explores the radical advancements of knowledge in the field of science and medicine.
Set in the early 1900s, Russian ladies in disguise Ida and Bubbie become world famous for their male impersonations. But on the night of their Broadway debut, disaster strikes.
Four women tackle common misconceptions of those with disabilities in this lighthearted hour-long production by Mary Nugent.
The story of two Irishmen; one from Ireland and one from America. This show details the familial lineage of both characters in a study of the native and the emigrant.
Actor and writer Timmy Creed contemplates living his life outside the institution that raised him: The GAA. With the support of visual artist David Mathúna, Creed attempts to understand the intimate details of his childhood.
Set in a fictional nightclub, the show features a mix of spoken word, movement, and an original house music score.
Nine women take at Meeting House Square with a set of steel drums.
Absolute Legends: Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists Seán-tastic and Famous Seamus return to the Fringe.
Widely praised since its debut in Cork last year, this show is half